The ancestors we contact with may be family members or friends who have passed over, and it is common to honour their memories, especially around October 31st and on dates special to the family.
While other ancestors may not be relations by blood, but cultural ancestors, or those who have walked a similar spiritual path before you, your spiritual ancestors. From these spiritual ancestors we can glean lost or near-lost lore and practices to help us advance and flesh out our spiritual and magickal practice.
These customs flourished among the Celts, who honoured ancestral spirits as well as legendary heroes. In Brittany it is said that the dead seek warmth from the hearth at night, and a feast is spread for them on All Souls’ eve, or crumbs maybe left for them after a family meal. In Ireland, after a death food is traditionally placed out for the spirits. In some parts of France, milk may be poured out on the grave.
Whatever ancestor worship existed in ancient Rome was a family affair, not a public one. The diseased joined the manes, the household gods. They visited the families and received offerings and watched over family events.
The tradition of putting out food and beer has survived into modern times, in some parts of Scandinavia.
In ancient Greece attention was given to spirits of household heads and political leaders, and the spirits of those whose deeds were heroic.
In many parts of the world, the dead are supposed to partake of the funeral feast.
In many pagan and witchcraft traditions it is common to make contact and offerings to the ancestors at least once in a while. In shamanistic traditions this is especially true, as a shaman will work closely with many spirits, including his or hers ancestors.
Most of these ancient ancestor-worshiping practices culminated at the family hearth, around and underneath which the dead were even buried (by grell). Around the hearth the tales of heroes and great-grand parents are told. The belief in the presence of ancestral ghosts around the hearth was widespread.
When a witch works with the ancestors, often one or a few ancestors will work with the witch, acting as a go-between. Common methods of inviting ancestors is to give them a “home” within the home, this maybe be a (probably fake) skull, a hearthstone, a miniature house, or a statute. Or they may enjoy the fireplace, or the stove.
We look to our ancestors to guide us, we build new traditions based around their supposed practises after all. There is a wealth of history, lore and insight waiting for us on the otherside of the Veil. Listen for the words of those witches and wise ones who have gone before.
Modern witches and pagans may light candles with a modern lighter or boil water on an electric range, but the inspiration for our beliefs and practices comes from our ancestry. Yet, how many of us honour those ancestors? Those long dead witches, pagans, druids, shamans, heathens and cunning folk deserve a nod of respect at least now and then.
The presence or absence of ancestor worship relates to the importance of kinship in the societies concerned. Rites of ancestral reverence can help to bring about family solidarity, and in promoting the unity of the clan, coven and community.
Gifts and Goodies
“Crafts make us feel rooted, give us a sense of belonging and connect us with our history. Our ancestors used to create these crafts out of necessity, and now we do them for fun, to make money and to express ourselves.” ~ Phyllis George
If you want to communicate with gods and spirits, do so with the utmost respect, it makes more sense to approach the universe with an attitude of respect and hospitality.
It is traditional to give ancestors, household spirits and gods gifts of things you have made yourself. In these modern times, this may be homemade cookies and a poem you wrote yourself, or some piece of art on the family shrine.
Good results can come from making gifts using traditional crafts, such a leather working, weaving, smith crafting and wortcunning. Some witches may find themselves inspirited artistically when making regular offerings to the ancestors.
Something that you put time, thought and effort into is better than something store bought. However, I do find that a store bought bottle of fancy beer or a glass of milk and some honey also make good offerings as well.
For domestic inspired witches and pagans, offering your own cooking, baking, and other gifts from the hearth can have extra significance. Just as for a poet, writing as poem, reciting it once and then tossing the only copy into the fire can be a moving offering.
Many of us, with practise and patience, will find good results communicating with the otherside using divination methods, meditation and trance, as well as shamanic techniques.
Feel free to ask for hints as to what to give, and also watch for signs as to what may be better received. Go ahead and (respectfully) experiment, and don’t be afraid to listen to your gut.
“Humans are not proud of their ancestors, and rarely invite them round to dinner.”
~ Douglas Adams
“The actions of my ancestors, as well as my own actions, direct my steps.” ~ Unknown